Winter Inn smashes expectations

The need for Red Deer’s Youth Winter Inn is clear. Within a five-month period, 49 youth regularly used the shelter run as a pilot project by the Youth and Volunteer Centre for intoxicated or homeless youth.

The need for Red Deer’s Youth Winter Inn is clear.

Within a five-month period, 49 youth regularly used the shelter run as a pilot project by the Youth and Volunteer Centre for intoxicated or homeless youth.

Program manager Rose Hatfield said when discussion started in 2008 about developing a winter shelter for youth, only five to 10 youth were expected to use it.

“We really didn’t know how high the numbers would be. We were very happy to get that many kids off the streets in the winter time,” Hatfield said on Monday about the inn that ran at the centre from Nov. 1 to April 30.

Those 49 youth, age 15 to 17, accessed the shelter 515 times, with an average of 10 admissions per youth.

“There were few of those who were one-time admissions.”

The inn ran from 9 p.m. to 8 a.m. seven days a week and 90 per cent of youth were in the shelter by 9:30 p.m. — even on Friday and Saturday nights, she said.

The majority of youth were 17 so they couldn’t access adult services.

About 80 to 85 per cent of the youth had addiction issues, which usually contributed to their inability to maintain stable housing, Hatfield said.

Funding from Nov. 1 to April 15 came from the federal government and the City of Red Deer. The centre hopes funding will come through from those sources again for next winter.

The Youth and Volunteer Centre collected donations to keep the site open from April 15 to 30.

Hatfield said she was really impressed by the support the project received from community businesses, groups and schools to help out. Besides having a warm, safe place to sleep, youth looked forward to little conveniences like snacks, juice and clean socks.

“It really opens your eyes to a sense of appreciation of what the small things can do.”

Central Alberta’s Safe Harbour Society for Health and Housing, which ran the Winter Inn for adults, saw a slight decrease in clientele.

Colleen Markus, director of programs with the society, said the inn saw an average of 18 people per night in March and April before it closed for the season on April 30.

“I think the housing market is not quite as tight as it was, with more affordable housing options,” Markus said.

Safe Harbour also runs People’s Place shelter that has 23 beds, the mat program with 20 spaces, along with about 25 spaces at the Winter Inn run at participating churches.

Unfortunately, spring storms hit the city in May after the Inn was closed, but the society was able to respond by increasing capacity at People’s Place and the mats program during emergency situations, she said.

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